01/29/2010 12:00AM

Salute to big-money horses

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LAS VEGAS - Welcome to the 10th annual ROI Awards. We usually hold this closer to the Eclipse Awards, but there was so much hype around the Rachel Alexandra-Zenyatta debate that we couldn't get enough media coverage at that time.

ROI stands for return on investment, and for our purposes it refers to the average payoff you would have received if you had wagered $2 to win on each of a horse's races last year.

Eclipse winners generally are star horses who get pounded at the betting windows. While we in Vegas applaud the beauty of the sport and the athletic ability of the champions, what we cheer for most of all is our money, so the ROI Awards honors the horses who gave us the best bang for the buck.

For those interested in the ROI Awards' view of the Horse of the Year debate, Zenyatta was 5 for 5 in 2009 with win mutuels totaling $17.80, an ROI of $3.56. She edged Rachel Alexandra, who returned $23.50 despite going 8 for 8, an ROI of $2.94.

Since these are national awards, only horses who ran at major U.S. simulcast tracks that attracted sizable betting pools were considered, with a heavy emphasis on stakes races.

So, without further ado, the envelopes please . . .

Two-year-old female: This was a hotly contested division this year. Eclipse winner She Be Wild had an ROI of $8.76 in five starts, thanks in large part to her $16.80 upset in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, and Worstcasescenario had an ROI of $8.78, thanks to her win in Saratoga's Grade 2 Adironack at 13-1. They were both topped, however, by Negligee's ROI of $9.50 in four starts that included a $10.60 maiden-claiming win at Woodbine and a $27.40 score in Keeneland's Grade 1 Alcibiades. We normally wouldn't allow that Woodbine maiden race, but Negligee would have still won the division with an ROI of $9.13 from her other three races.

Two-year-old male: We don't always award an ROI for one-race wonders, but in cases like this, where Noble Promise's $8.04 ROI or Buddy's Saint's $10.69 didn't blow us away, we're giving the ROI to Vale of York for his $63.20 score in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. Note: One-race wonders aren't eligible to win the coveted ROI Horse of the Year.

Three-year-old female: Rachel Alexandra was a unanimous winner in this category at the Eclipse, but that $2.94 doesn't cut it here. Instead, Gabby's Golden Gal takes home the hardware with an ROI of $8.03 from seven races, thanks to her $28.40 win in Belmont's Grade 1 Acorn.

Three-year-old male: This is the category this year for one-race wonders. Mine That Bird won the Kentucky Derby at $103.20 and didn't have another win but still finished with an ROI of $12.90. Man of Iron came over from Ireland to upset the Breeders' Cup Marathon at $14.80. But they were both outdone by Gitano Hernando, the $38 winner of the Grade 1 Goodwood during the Oak Tree at Santa Anita meet.

Older female: Santa Teresita won the Santa Maria at Santa Anita (Santas are wild!) in February at 13-1, and even though she ended up with five starts on the year, her ROI of $5.76 held up to win this division.

Older male: Further Land had six wins in nine starts, but it wasn't until his $44.60 victory in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile that he increased his ROI to $10.67 and edged out Richard's Kid ($7.67).

Turf female: Lahaleeb won the Grade 1 E.P. Taylor at Woodbine at $90.70, but we're invoking the U.S. clause and tossing this one-race wonder to instead honor Miss World. She was more consistent, scoring at $29 in Belmont's Grade 1 Garden City and also posting a $15.20 score in an allowance race at Saratoga and a maiden special win at Belmont, and finished with an $8.93 ROI from six races.

Turf male: The Usual Q.T. came on strong late in the year with five straight wins, giving him an ROI of $6.60 in eight races, but he wasn't able to catch Telling, who won just the Grade 1 Sword Dancer at Saratoga at $68. That still gave him an ROI of $8.50 from eight races.

Female sprinter: A $6.80 win usually doesn't clinch an ROI Award campaign, but Informed Decision did just that by winning the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint and improving her ROI to $4.86 in seven races. She was 6 for 7 on the year and had two other wins at 3-1 earlier in the year to squeak past Music Note ($4.03).

Male sprinter and ROI HOY: Dancing in Silks had a decent year going with an $8 win in an optional claimer and a $6.80 win in a minor stakes at Del Mar, then adding a $10 score in the California Cup Sprint during the Oak Tree at Santa Anita meet. But the coup de grace was his $52.60 upset in the Breeders' Cup Sprint, which helped him finish the year with an impressive ROI of $15.08 from five starts. He not only ran away with in the male sprint division - which he would have won even with a loss in the BC Sprint - but also claimed the coveted ROI HOY.

That's it for this year's honors. Have a good night, and be sure to tip your waitress.